Category Archives: brainstorming

Yahoo.com is becoming more and more appropriately named

Lately I’ve been working on a plan for stepping up my creative activities, which includes making some adjustments to my online presence.  I’ll spare you the tedious details, and only mention that one step of the plan involved creating a new Yahoo Mail account that I could associate with an already existing Flickr account.

Well, my plan has been foiled, thanks to a new and very stupid Yahoo account creation policy:  It turns out that, as of recently, Yahoo will no  longer allow someone to set up a mail account without providing a mobile phone number.  I don’t have one of those damned things, nor do I want one.  Even if I could get one and keep it running for a reasonable price, having it would make it easier for people to bother me, which I don’t want.  And (seriously people) – text messages??!?!  No way.

I may be able to work around this problem some other way, involving using an existing, unused Yahoo Mail account instead of creating a new one.  That is assuming there is no further demand for cell phone information when I set up the association with the already-existing Flickr account—an assumption which, as of today, I no longer consider safe.

An additional, worrisome question is whether Yahoo plans to extend their Nazi-esque mobile phone policy to existing users in general.  As of today, they have not done that—I just successfully logged out of my primary Yahoo Mail account and then logged back in.  They do pester with the “what’s your mobile phone number” thing at every single login now, though.  If they make that mandatory, I’d be faced with the very unwelcome choice of abandoning my old accounts entirely, or shelling out the damn money to buy one of these goddamned phones.  (I notice WordPress is getting pretty pushy about mobile phone authentication as well, although I don’t believe they require a number just to create an account.)

It actually makes me wonder if Yahoo! is getting a kickback from the phone companies to do this.  It wouldn’t be at all surprising, would it?  I can certainly believe that the large phone companies, all of whom are scum, would stoop to this sort of strategy.

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Irony

Something just occurred to me.

I have been an Apple user since…..well, maybe 1982? Something like that. It was before the Mac came out anyway–a computer math class in high school in the early 80’s, programming in AppleSoft on an Apple IIe. Not a bad computer, for that time, incidentally, even if it was possible for me to physically type enough text to fill up the entire RAM capacity of the computer. LOL

Anyway. The point is that I’ve been an Apple user for a long time. But something occurred to me, as I’ve been looking over my last few posts on this blog tonight. As a long-time Mac user, I’ve slung more than my fair share of criticism towards Microsoft, especially back in the DOS and Windows 95 days. Nevertheless, I have to admit that, possibly, my favorite application of all time is a Microsoft product: Microsoft Excel.

And, my most-loathed application of all time is Apple’s Time Machine.

What a dilemma. I, a long-time Mac user, have proclaimed my all-time favorite application to be a Microsoft product, and my all-time most-hated application to be an Apple product. WTF?

Hmm. Well, I have no particular insight into that question at the moment, but I do feel moved to traverse the garden path for a bit, as it were:

Every once and a while, my dentist, knowing me to be a computer geek, asks me for a recommendation or other pertaining to hardware or software if he’s got a big upgrade coming, or whatever. Over the years, I’ve found myself less and less sure of what to tell him. Gone are the days when I could brazenly brag about how I ran my iMac with no malware protection whatsoever. Granted, I still do that (depending on what you consider “malware protection”–for instance, is Adblock Plus considered “malware protection”? Or NoScript?). But long gone are the days when I would unconditionally recommend a Mac system.

At the same time, though, I have never gone so far as to actually recommend a Windows 7 system to anyone (with the exception of the odd Windows XP user wondering if it was a good idea to upgrade–short answer, “it ain’t bad, you’ll get used to it, and I don’t hate it myself, which is more than I can say about a lot of upgrades”).

Really, if someone came to me today, or during the past few years, and asked what sort of system they should buy, I’m honestly not sure what I would say. It’s my feeling that there is really no good choice out there, or that (really) the best choice is to simply stick with what you have. Out of Windows, OS X and Linux, each has their advantages and disadvantages. I stick with OS X because it would cost me too much to switch, given the gains I would realize. Maybe the correct answer to the question is, “it doesn’t really matter all that much.”

Then again, it can be said that desktop systems aren’t the main issue anymore. The real question these days is what sort of mobile device to get. Android? iPhone? Blackberry?!?! Hmmm.

[For me, the answer is “none of the above”, because 1) I detest the expense involved in any of those systems, 2) I don’t want people to be able to reach me that easily and 3) “the cloud” is a BAD idea in most cases. In the long run, I am guessing that this will spell my demise as a “tech” guy, due to the world’s moving into a realm of stupidity and me refusing to follow. Oh well. Ask me if I care. No. Why do you ask?]

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iMac or Mac Pro?

Out of curiousity, I was looking at specs on Apple’s website recently and noticed something interesting. When comparing features and prices between their current top of the line iMac and bottom of the line Mac Pro (default configurations for both), a person is better off buying the iMac, unless they already have a high-end monitor available for the Mac Pro, or (perhaps) have a specific need for some key feature that’s only available on the Mac Pro.

Why?

It’s actually pretty simple: The iMac is spec’d higher, it’s $500 cheaper, it includes a high-end monitor for no extra cost, and it’s power consumption is substantially less. This is just a ballpark figure, but I generally allow my Mac to run 24/7, idle most of the time with the screen dimmed, and, comparing the wattage figures for that usage between the two models, I estimate I’d burn through about 75 kilowatt-hours more per month with the Mac Pro.

Is a 3.1GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i5 (iMac) better or worse than a 2.8GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon “Nehalem” processor (Mac Pro)? Many people will simply not care–either one will be fast enough. The question is actually somewhat important to me, though, given my ownership of a Nikon D7000, which produces some rather large and slow-to-process RAW image files. Some extra speed would be helpful with that. I am too lazy to bother looking up the answer to the question right now, however (am I the world’s lamest blogger, or what?!?!).

Graphics cards: I admit I neither know, nor care, about the difference (if any) between them. (I suck at video games, and what else do you need that kind of hardware for, anyway? Generating Bitcoins? LOL Good luck with that.)

Firewire: The Mac Pro has two FW800 ports. The iMac only has one, but also has the new “Thunderbolt” ports. These are useless at this point, but will be quite nice once Thunderbolt peripherals are available. Those who, like me, have a lot of external hard drives, will perhaps be ambivalent about the prospect of upgrading lots of enclosures. I am also a bit concerned that I may actually have more drives than are allowable on a Thunderbolt bus. When you figure a 3 terabyte limit on drive size, multiplied by the small number of Thunderbolt devices allowed on one system, you end up with a limit on total system storage that’s substantially lower than you’d get using Firewire devices. It also gets more complicated when you realize, from a practical standpoint, that if you max out the drive size on all of the devices, you are going to run into backup issues, so the practical limit is even lower. Obviously it will be more than enough for all but the most dedicated hoarders (heheheh), but some of us may get a little cramped, especially once those 1080p video files start to pile up! (This is actually an interesting theoretical question. Let’s say, for instance, that for some crazy, insane reason I needed a petabyte of storage space on my iMac system, and, through some miracle, had the money to pay for it. Is that amount of storage even possible on an iMac system, and, if so, how could it be accomplished? Food for thought. Heheheh.)

On the whole, with the noted reservations, I suspect the specs are a win for the iMac, at least for now. Apple will get around to updating their Mac Pro line sooner or later, and at that point, the situation will presumably change.

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Support: A genuinely gnarly subject

I am in the midst of trying to figure out what in the world I really need in terms of a support upgrade for my camera. A while ago, I purchased a lovely 300mm AF-S f/4 Nikkor lens, and, although the lens isn’t heavy or long enough to mandate tripod/monopod use in all circumstances, I am definitely running into some common situations where it would be helpful. One in particular is shooting out the passenger side window of the car, when I’m in the driver’s seat. Doing that hand-held quickly proved to be totally impossible at any shutter speed, due to the need to cross my left arm all the way across my body, to the point where that shoulder has virtually no leverage at all, and that’s the hand that supports the lens, in Nikon’s decidedly non-ambidextrous design. My left arm just shakes too much in that position. If I twist in the other direction, though, to shoot out the driver’s window, that works fine because now the left arm has plenty of leverage, and I can even brace my elbow on the armrest on the door. Unfortunately, there are about ten times as many good shots out the passenger side as out the driver’s side. (And if I lived in the UK, Australia, or some other country where people drive on the left, then this would not be an issue at all, because the passenger window would be on the left, not the right!)

For lack of a better immediate solution, I’ve been using an old tripod as a makeshift support, in order to alleviate the problem. It’s not stable enough to qualify as a “real” tripod support, because it’s not sturdy enough for that, but it can function as a substitute “arm”, meaning I still need to keep shutter speeds above 1/500, as I would for hand-held shots. It’s better than nothing, but I am still having problems. I am unsure of the source of the problems, but I suspect engine vibrations being magnified through the car seat, and further through the flimsy, wobbly legs of the tripod. These vibrations then cause problems for getting the lens focused correctly in some circumstances, due to the image moving enough that the focusing sensor is unable to get a perfectly accurate reading. At least, that is my theory.

I’m not sure what to do about it, because I need to be able to shoot that way, and it’s also very useful to be able to creep along in the car without having to start and stop the engine multiple times. I question whether any amount of money spent on a tripod setup would solve the problem. It might, if I was able to set it up so that one leg wasn’t braced on the passenger seat. If the springs in the passenger seat really are acting as an amplifier for the engine vibrations, then yes, a different tripod, one with more configurable and sturdy legs might actually help, so I can brace all three of them on a solid part of the car. Such a tripod would be useful for other things as well. If it doesn’t do the trick in the car, though, then I don’t think any rigid solution would work. I would need something that would directly compensate for those vibrations, such as some kind of steady-cam gimbal setup, or other type of shock-absorbing device. Maybe a great big pillow would be the thing. :) I actually did see one person using something like that with a big-assed telephoto (looked like a 400mm f/2.8) several weeks ago, while shooting from his car. I’d have to prop the pillow on top of something. Hmm. Come to think of it, what I was initially doing was using the tripod as a brace for my elbow, rather than setting it up all the way. I’d extend one leg to rest on the floor or some solid surface, then angle the top end of the tripod so I could brace my left elbow against it, thus providing the support that I couldn’t get from overextended shoulder muscles. Maybe I should just go back to doing that! However, the problem was that it was extremely clumsy, and I would often spend so much time messing around with it that whatever bird I was seeing was long gone by the time I got the tripod/elbow combination situated correctly.

I probably need a more workable solution, so I have been thinking of acquiring some kind of fairly normal tripod that would be suitable for bird shots with the 300mm f/4. It’s not a huge lens, probably comparable in size and weight to a standard 70-200 f/2.8, meaning it’s actually somewhat small compared to the big telephotos. I may add a 1.5x or 1.7x teleconverter someday, for shooting either from inside the car or out. I’m also going to want to use it for closeup shots next spring, although not from the car. I am unsure at this point if a monopod would be better for use when I’m outside of the car. Luckily, from research I’ve done so far, the main expense appears to be the head, clamp and plates, which can be interchanged between a monopod and a tripod.

The head would have to be a fairly nice ball head. I’m considering the Wimberly Sidekick to go with the head, although for the time being I’ve decided to wait and see how well a regular ball head works. The main reason for this is that I found a demo video of the Sidekick, and the thing is larger than I expected, making me think it might be overkill for my lens. Another option would be a panning ball head as opposed to a simple ball head. The panning ball head allows panning on the top part of the head, right by the clamp, which means that the tripod legs don’t have to be level in order to pan horizontally. That seems like it would be extremely convenient, however a panning head is substantially more expensive. Also, I am unsure whether that feature would be necessary if I got the Sidekick, which means I need to go watch that video again. ;) I’d also need to get a lens plate and an L-plate for the camera, both for mounting onto the ball head (or the Sidekick). I’m only considering ball heads that feature an Arca-Swiss style clamp.

For the tripod itself, I am a bit torn. I was looking hard at the Manfrotto 055XPROB, which is definitely within my price range and seems to be a pretty nice piece of equipment. I do have some reservations about the sideways capability of the center post, though. Supposedly, this can create stability issues, and there’s also the question of whether I would even need that sideways leaning feature. Manfrotto has a similar tripod with just a traditional up-and-down center post, the 055XB, but, unfortunately, the retailer I was planning on using doesn’t carry that model! That would be a minor quibble, except there’s enough variation in prices between retailers that having to go elsewhere would (apparently) cost me an additional $20, even with the simpler design! I may also need a shorter center column. Those can be had for about $30, if I remember right.

For the ball head, I’m looking at the Really Right Stuff BH-40, either with the panning clamp, or with the substantially cheaper, but less convenient full-sized screw-knob clamp.

So, what’s that boil down to in terms of cost?

For the legs, if I manage to find the Manfrotto 055XB carried by someone who’s asking a good price, it should come to roughly $155. That’s about $20 cheaper than some places are asking. Then the ball head would be either $356 with the standard clamp or $515 (!) with the panning clamp. The plates could also be obtained from Really Right Stuff. An L-plate for the camera would come to $125, and a plate for the lens would be $55. If I wanted to skimp a bit, I could initially skip the L-plate and just get the one for the lens….actually, since I’m thinking about upgrading camera bodies, I could save some money and just wait to get the L-plate for the new body. In fact, I could skip all of this plate stuff for now and just get a ball head with a platform (no clamp), then add the panning clamp later. That’s one nice feature of the Really Right Stuff heads–the clamps and platforms are interchangeable.

However, assuming I go with the regular style clamp ball head, I’m looking at $566, including the tripod and a plate for the lens.

That’s pretty steep, considering just a few hours ago I blew more than that on car repairs. :(

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Stupid Mac Tricks

This bug is actually kind of interesting, although it could cause some more significant problems in some cases.

I was using Disk Utility to do a free space wipe of one of my drives. What happens when this occurs is Disk Utility creates a new file that’s exactly the size of the free space on the drive, then overwrites the file however many times is specified in the wipe options. That would be either once, seven times or whatever the highest, most secure option is (I forget at the moment).

So that’s what I was doing when Time Machine started up. Time Machine noticed this “new” file that Disk Utility had created, and decided it needed to be backed up…all sixteen gigabytes of it. Suddenly, the backup was sixteen gigabytes larger than before, meaning my Time Machine drive did not have enough space. Older backups needed to be deleted to make room. I ended up losing two weeks of my oldest backups. This is not a huge deal in this case, but it is entirely possible that someone will encounter this bug at some point and experience far greater problems with it. It all depends on how much of a shortfall is caused by the wipe file. If the wipe file is, say, 75 gigabytes larger than the free space on the Time Machine drive, then you’re going to lose 75 gigs of backups just to make room for a gigantic file full of gibberish or zeros. Thrilling, huh? Even if you’re lucky like I was, with a wipe file “small” enough to not cause serious mayhem on the backup drive, you’ll still have a huge, utterly useless file sitting there, potentially for quite a long time, with no easy way to get rid of it. Why? Because it’s an invisible file, so you won’t be able to see it in Time Machine. [footnote!]

I wonder if this is fixed in Snow Leopard. I am a luddite, still using Leopard, 10.5.8.

The easy workaround, of course, is to turn off Time Machine before doing such a wipe. Obviously it is ridiculous that people should have to remember something like that, but that’s the way it goes in the computer business.

On the plus side, at some point in the future when Time Machine needs more space on my drive, and has reached the point where the September 18th backup is the oldest, I’m going to be getting a fairly large chunk back all at once. I wonder how long it will be? [footnote–not long, I guess! :P]

——

Footnote: I was able to get the wipe file off the backup drive and reclaim that space. It proved to be about 15 gigabytes, not 16 like I thought. How did I get rid of it?

The file itself was located a few levels deep in an invisible folder named “.Temporary Items” on the drive I was cleaning. In order to show this folder, I needed to make invisible items visible. Moreover, I needed to do this in a way that I could see the invisible files in Time Machine. There’s a utility called Onyx which can do this. It has a checkbox to unhide invisible items in the Finder, which also makes them visible in Time Machine (as I discovered, to my delight).

Once those invisible items are visible, I started Time Machine and located the backup where the huge file appeared. It was the first backup after I started the free space wipe. Finder view options needed to be set to “show all folder sizes”, so I could check the sizes of the folders I was looking at. Basically, I kept opening folders until I found the very large file that was causing the problem–I think it was two or three levels deep. It had some generic, technical sounding name (I forgot to note it down before I removed it), but was clearly identifiable it by its size, which was equal to the amount of free space on the drive from before. I selected that file, then went up to the little actions menu button in the title bar of that Finder window (it’s the button with the little gear icon in it). One of the options was to remove all backups of that file. It asked if I was sure and requested my password to confirm. After that, I had the space back on my backup drive, all fifteen gigabytes of it. Sadly, though, there is no way to recover the old backups which had been deleted to make room for it. :(

Disclaimer: Just because I am describing this here doesn’t mean I am recommending this procedure. Anything you try is at your own risk. In particular, do not use the Finder to delete individual files off of a Time Machine drive, because it will not work. I am not responsible for the actions of people who try this who don’t know what they are doing. I’m mostly putting this description up because I am sort of a compulsive explainer, and can’t really help myself. ;)

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Update on the Scrollball Problem

On a whim, I tried an idea with the scrollball to see if it would help.

I applied a fair amount of ordinary spit to the scrollball (basically I licked it a couple times), and then did the standard press-down-and-exercise-the-ball method. This actually seemed to shake things up in there a little, so I licked the ball again and did it some more, with a bit more spit this time. Hmm, didn’t help as much, so one more generous lick, then flipped the mouse over, pressed the scrollball down onto a clean sheet of paper and rolled it around a bit.

That seems to have done the trick, for now. Hopefully the fix will last for more than a couple of hours.

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Conundrum

Should you take the red pill or the blue pill?

The problem with this question is, what if the intelligence behind the illusions of the blue pill is just making you think you’re taking the red pill? Is your new reality just another layer of illusion?

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The Fig Rig

Check out The Fig Rig, a camera mounting apparatus designed by Mike Figgis for use on his whacky experimental film Hotel (and some others). It’s designed for use with small digital video cameras, but I find myself wondering if it might be useful for a still camera. :)

Actually, whatever the next DSLR I get will be, it’s almost certain to have video capability, so that would make something like this more useful. For a still camera, it would basically be just a stabilizing device, inferior to a solid tripod, but more convenient and easy to move. I wonder how well it would work, compared to just hand-holding the camera with VR on. The Manfrotto site has a video where Figgis demonstrates usage of the rig, including with a fairly long zoom lens. He uses his thigh to brace the bottom part of the rig just a little off the vertical, and uses that point as a pivot for a long shot as his actors move around. It’s quite interesting.

What does it cost? About US$300, and that’s just for the wheel part and some cable clips. A bit pricey, but if you consider what a halfway decent tripod and head costs, I guess it’s not that bad. However, since both hands are occupied with holding the rig during use, you’re going to probably need some remote control equipment too.

A pic, showing a Fig Rig with camera, mic and what I assume is a remote controller for the camera (small object on the upper left side of the wheel):

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Steve speaks!

Wow – get a load of this:

Steve Jobs comments on Flash and its lack of support on Apple mobile devices. Very interesting stuff!

I find myself in complete agreement, which is unusual. I typically tend to be pretty critical of Steve Jobs (although I admit a lot of that may just be sour grapes), but in this case I think he’s right on the money.

One thing of particular interest appears late in the memo: “Flash was created during the PC era – for PCs and mice.” The implication being that Steve Jobs and Apple view the PC era as being done. They may have actually said this at some point too, perhaps at the point when they removed the word “computer” from the company name.

(And off we go onto a little tangent here, if you’ll bear with me…)

The thing is, while I do tend to get very annoyed with computers, I also like them. To this day, I don’t own a laptop or iPod, or anything like that. I would rather have a good desktop system. The only portable computing devices I own are my camera (a Nikon D40, which is technically a type of computer, albeit a very specialized one), and perhaps my wristwatch. ;)

However, I’ve been toying with the idea of a laptop for some time now. My main objections to laptops have always been hatred of the blasted touchpad, and not liking the keyboards. Well, the new Mac I bought last summer came with a keyboard that’s pretty close to a laptop keyboard, and it turns out that I like it just fine. As for the touchpad, though, that’s another problem entirely. I admit I am getting sick of mice. They are just too hard on the hand and wrist during heavy use. A touchpad would likely alleviate that problem, although I do not know if it would come with its own set of RSI issues. In any case, I may end up having to switch to a touchpad for health reasons, even though doing so will likely slow me down by a factor of 10. Another fact to consider is the likelihood that Apple will eventually change their system enough so that key functions require multiple “touch” points in order to work. Such a system would no longer be fully mouse-compatible. Frankly, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see something like that happen in OS 10.7, whenever that comes out.

Aside from the decreasing importance of my old objections, there would be advantages to having a laptop. The main one would be that I could keep on computing, even when I’m sitting on the toilet! :P Seriously, when I get really into something, I am so annoyed at having to take bathroom breaks. :D I have also been considering going back to school in the next few years, and I imagine a laptop would be needed for that. You can’t lug a desktop system into a lecture hall, can you? Just doing some more brainstorming along this line, what might prove to be even more helpful in that situation would be an iPad with an auxiliary detachable keyboard. Assuming such a device is available. That way I could put the keyboard on my lap and the iPad on the desktop, which strikes me as an ergonomically superior solution. Hmmm.

Well, this post has clearly gotten way off the garden path, so I’ll end it here.

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It worked! Nuking iTunes 9 in favor of iTunes 8

It worked! :D

First, huge kudos to Apple Support Forums user GanstaPenguin for posting steps to accomplish this rollback.

What I’m going to do here is note some particulars I ran into during the rollback, then post a detailed step-by-step guide of how to do this, integrating GanstaPenguin’s steps with what I ran into during the rollback.

Stuff I encountered:  I had purchased four songs from the iTunes online store after the upgrade.  Based on other comments on Apple Support Forums, I was careful to make backup copies of these tracks before attempting the rollback.  I also made sure that Time Machine had made a backup of my hard drive, and that I had done nothing of significance since that backup.  My rationale was that if something went wrong with the rollback, the easiest “undo” would be to simply restore the whole drive with Time Machine.  After the rollback, I reimported the four new songs, and ended up with duplicate files in their corresponding folders in the “iTunes Music” folder.  Fixing this proved to be trivial, and in the steps below, I’ll design things to avoid this duplication.  In terms of iTunes configuration:  In iTunes preferences, under the Advanced tab, I have “Keep iTunes Music folder organized” and “Copy files to iTunes Music folder when adding to library” both checked.  I learned that this is really the best option if you think you’re ever going to be messing around with the guts of iTunes. If you do not have those options checked, then some of what I list below is not going to work as I describe.

Playcounts, ratings and other customizations of items purchased after the upgrade were gone after the rollback.  Playcounts can be fixed with a script that allows changing of playcounts.  The other stuff is done manually.  (If I remember where to find that playcount-changer script, I’ll post a link here.  At the moment I don’t know where I got that, though—sorry.)

So, based on GanstaPenguin’s insight and my own experience with the rollback, here are extra-detailed steps on how to nuke iTunes 9 and get iTunes 8 back:

1) Make sure you have a valid backup.  NEVER mess around with iTunes without a valid backup.  I AM NOT KIDDING. Time Machine is the recommended backup method.  You also need to make a note of the time of this backup, in case you get through all of this and want to undo it for some reason.

2) Go to <http://support.apple.com/downloads/iTunes_8_2_1> and download iTunes 8.2.1. Open the disk image and review the “read me” file until you are satisfied that this version of the program will, in fact, run on a G4, G5 or Intel Mac in spite of what the webpage says. :)

3) Identify which songs or other items you have purchased since you upgraded.  If you care about play counts, ratings, etc., you’ll need to make a note of these somewhere.  I used TextEdit. :)

4) Quit iTunes.

5) You’re going to move your recently purchased items to a different location, but to do that you need to actually find the files.  You can use Spotlight to find them, or else hunt them down in the Finder (I do it that way because I hate Spotlight).  For manual finding, look in the “iTunes Music” folder.  Songs are mostly sorted by artist, then by album name.  One song I bought was from a movie soundtrack—I found it in the “Compilations” folder.  I don’t know how videos are organized—sorry.  I’d recommend Spotlight for those, I guess.

6) Now the files need to be moved.  What I did was to simply copy the .m4a files to another drive.  Copying to another drive will leave the originals in their original locations, which is not what you want!  If this happens, you’ll have to delete the originals yourself, after copying them.  Another way would be to simply drag the files to the desktop or another folder on the same drive as your iTunes library, instead of copying to another drive.  Whichever way you do it, the song files need to be gone from their locations in the iTunes Music folder, so that when you reimport them, you won’t end up with dupes.  (Whether or not dupes would be a problem somewhere down the road is unknown.  I prefer not to take the chance.)

7) Now you can delete iTunes from your Applications folder.  You don’t have to empty the trash, although it won’t hurt if you do.

8) Go to your ~/Music/iTunes folder. Delete or rename the “iTunes Library” file.

9) Open the “Previous iTunes Libraries” folder and look for the backup of your old pre-9 library; it should be dated at about the time you first ran iTunes 9. Move it back out to the ~/Music/iTunes folder, and rename it to “iTunes Library”.

10) Go back to the disk image you’ve downloaded and run the installer application.  Agree to whatever it says and wait for the installation to complete.

11) Start up iTunes.  You can immediately satisfy yourself that the rollback has worked by accessing the iTunes store.  When I did this, there was some delay—I am not sure if this was because it was confused over my rollback, or it was simply internet slowness.  You can also check your “Purchased” list and verify that items you bought since the v9 upgrade have, in fact, disappeared.

12) Use the Finder to locate your saved copies of your recently purchased songs.  The easiest way to get them back into iTunes is to select them all and do command-O (that’s the letter “O”, not a zero!).  This will cause iTunes to reimport them.   I suggest having your music sorted by “date added” when you do this, because the next step is manually dragging these tracks over to the “Purchased” list, so they show up there again.

13) Final step for me was restoring the play counts.

Out of curiosity, I also ran Software Update, and sure enough, it’s now recommending I upgrade to iTunes 9.0.3 again.  I’m thinking I’m going to have to uncheck that option every single time I run Software Update, from now until I get a new computer that comes preloaded with a newer version.  (Does a Snow Leopard upgrade force an upgrade to iTunes 9?  I hope not.)

Final note—What to do if something goes wrong and you want to undo all of this:

Close all applications. Open a Finder window and navigate to the top level of your internal hard drive.  Open Time Machine.  Click the backwards-pointing arrow until you are at the backup dated right before you started the rollback procedure.  Click the “restore” button.  It shouldn’t take all that long to run the restore, since you won’t have made all that many changes.  Disclaimer:  I haven’t done this, since the rollback worked fine for me.  However, this is what I would have done if I had not been satisfied.

So that’s that.

You know, this isn’t the first time I’ve been pissed off by an iTunes upgrade.  The last time was a few years ago—I forget what the issue was at the time.  I suppose it must have been less significant, because I eventually got used to it.  However, after two irritating upgrades, I have learned my lesson.  Never again will I blindly accept an iTunes upgrade without first researching it to see people’s reactions.  The difficulty, though, is how to do that research.  When I googled “iTunes 9 shopping cart” I got some pretty informative results, but if I hadn’t known to include “shopping cart” in my search, would I have found anything about it?  What’s needed are really good, critical reviews of these upgrades.

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Blog Layout

Hmmm!

I’ve been trying out different layouts for this blog over the past couple of days. I started with the one I use for my Four Things and a Lizard blog, and realized it looks gorgeous for that blog but won’t really work here. I previewed a bunch of others, even going so far as to install a couple of them. This one here is the only one which has really struck me as being “right” though.

It’s not perfect, of course. I don’t really like the little icons in the footer of each article. And when I completed and published my post from earlier today, I noticed there were links inserted at the bottom of it, to “possibly related” articles on other people’s blogs. I doubt I’m going to want that to stay there, assuming there’s an option to eliminate it somehow.

However, all things considered, it’s a very nice layout. It’s light enough on color elements that I can realistically use it for a blog that covers photography, but isn’t totally monochrome. It also features a customizable header, which I like. The one up there right now is a cropped section of this photo:

Broken Reeds

I may alternate it with other photos sometimes too.

Yes, I think this will work out pretty good! :)

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Dry spell

Winter is now underway in earnest, and I’ve been in the midst of some photography blahs lately. The problem started when there wasn’t a single sunny day in the entire month of December, except for days when I was at work and couldn’t go outside. All others were cloudy, without exception. With sunrise being so late and sunset happening well before I get out of work, this was a pretty discouraging state of affairs. Even taking four days off around the Christmas holiday didn’t help—not one of them was sunny. Of course I took a stab at getting out with the camera anyway, on days when the roads weren’t clogged up with new snowfall, but I wasn’t exceptionally happy with the results.

Now that we are into January, the weather pattern has flipped and sunny days are much more common. As is typical, though, this means colder weather. Due to some car issues this year, I’m a little nervous about getting out into the middle of nowhere and leaving my car parked when it’s so cold out. A couple weeks ago it wouldn’t start due to an electrical problem. That issue has apparently been fixed now, but since then there have been some random instances of the blower shutting off briefly, or even refusing to start. Obviously I can drive the car without the blower, but it’s not pleasant when the heating system isn’t fully functional in the dead of winter. (And not being able to defog the windows in the morning is a real pain in the ass.)

I’m also getting discouraged about my new Flickr account. I had wanted to have all my old pics reposted over a month ago already, but I’m still dragging my feet. In fact, I haven’t made any progress in a while, except for deciding that there are definitely going to be some photos which will be skipped this time around. I’ve also realized it was a mistake to delete my old Flickr stream. Aside from casting off a lot of useless group subscriptions, I don’t think I’ve benefited from the switch in the least.

The final problem is more simple: I’m just not feeling all that inspired right now.

So for now, I’m amusing myself by trying different themes for this blog. I also want to take a look at the categories, because they seem like they could use some updating. There are also a bunch of draft posts that I should either finish or delete. Probably the tagging needs to be reviewed too. (Actually I hate tagging, but it is useful enough that I keep trying, as frustrating and imperfect as it is.) That’s also the main reason for this post—just to get myself doing something here, so I don’t let it slide completely, like I’ve pretty much done with my old Blogger blogs.

Speaking of which, I actually did take a quick look at my other blogs recently. Right now I have no ideas about what I would write on them, but there are at least two of them (out of four) which I would like to keep active. One is my SG-13 blog here on WordPress. I was reading some of my SG-13 posts last night and realized I’m very happy with a lot of what I did on that blog. I definitely want to get started on it again, if I can find the time.

Anyway. That is what has been up lately. :)

Oh—I believe Nikon is going to be coming out with a D90 replacement model sometime in the near future. I’d have to check but I think February was the time I heard mentioned. Sounds exciting! For a long time I considered the D90 to be the obvious choice for my next camera body. I even had the plan of purchasing one right around the time that the successor was announced, that way I’d get the D90 for a really reasonable price. Well, that time is now! And I am not ready to spend that kind of money just yet—I have credit card debt I’ve been dragging around since 1993 which is within two or three months of finally being paid off, so there is no way I’m spending $800 on a camera body until that is taken care of. However, this may not actually be a problem, since I have lately been thinking that the D90 successor might have some features that I could appreciate, in which case there is no rush. The other choice, of course, would be a D300s, and there is no rush on that either.

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So, what lens should I get? :)

I’ve been itching to upgrade my lens collection lately, but of course it’s a challenge for a person in my position to figure out which way to go. By “my position”, I mean “not having a lot of money”, and also “not having much in the way of lenses to begin with.” That means almost anything would be an improvement.

Here’s the current situation: My camera body is a Nikon D40. For lenses, I have the Nikon 18-200mm VR, and a non-functional 18-55mm, where the autofocus doesn’t work. For those not familiar with the 18-55, the manual focusing on that lens is especially tricky, in that you turn the lens only about 1/8th of a revolution to go all the way from closest focus to infinity. Combined with the difficulty of using the D40 viewfinder for focusing, it makes the lens virtually unusable in many situations. I have been meaning to send it in to get it fixed, but haven’t gotten around to it yet. If I got it fixed, it would serve as my “macro” lens—it doesn’t focus to 1:1, but I don’t need to focus that close anyway. I find that at 55mm, it focuses close enough for my purposes. Here is an example:

False Sunflower

(Actually, that pic was taken after the autofocus failed, so it is clearly possible to get good results on manual focus. But it took a bit of extremely careful, minute rotations of the lens barrel to get that shot into good focus. Autofocus probably would have been easier.)

The image quality of the 18-55 is also better, in general, than that of the 18-200 VR. Even the barrel distortion at 18mm isn’t as bad, although it is certainly obvious enough to be seen, if there are straight lines in the shot.

So, given my current situation, I’ve been thinking about a few specific expansion options. There are four that come in under $1000 (I would not feel comfortable spending a huge amount of money right now—in fact, I probably am not going to go with any of these, since I really shouldn’t be spending anything right now, heheheh). They are:

10-24mm f/3.5-4.5G ED AF-S DX – A good DX landscape lens, which would give me some wider angle options than what I currently have, and better quality overall. A possible drawback to this choice is that I am not sure whether I would actually need to go this wide. The widest lens I have used on a regular basis was on my old Konica SLR, a nice little 24mm prime. In general I found it to be a bit wider than I needed it to be, except for in a few limited circumstances. It should be noted, however, that in the years I used this lens (roughly 1994 through 2005), I didn’t have as much idea of how to use a wide lens as I do now. I guess the best thing to do would be to actually try out a superwide lens before committing to buying one.

16-85mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR AF-S DX – A general purpose replacement for the 18-200, to be used primarily for landscape shots. It would give me a bit more reach on the wide end, would force me to narrow my mental focus while in the field (by depriving me of instant access to the longer focal lengths), and would probably give me better image quality than the 18-200. One question with this lens is whether, by getting it, I would be making myself even less likely to ever try a superwide lens. The 16mm wide end would put me at an equivalent angle of view to the 24mm lens on my old camera.

Another question relates to the fact that it is a DX lens. It can be argued that the best Nikon camera body for landscapes is currently the 24 megapixel D3x, which happens to be an FX camera. In that case, the 24-70mm f/2.8 would be a better option. That, however, is getting pretty speculative, given the great expense of that equipment.

70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED VR AF-S – This would extend the reach and overall quality on the long end. I’ve been really interested in bird shots lately, and let’s face it: The 18-200 is not a very adequate lens for that purpose. It’s not long enough, and the quality at 200mm is not the best. I’ve gradually learned, through trial and error, that my best birding configuration with this lens is to set it to 200mm and f/6.3 (opening up all the way to f/5.6 seems to result in lower quality), and hope for the best. At that aperture, I find that I often need to bump the ISO up to 400 (or even 800) to get an acceptable shutter speed. I also find that autofocusing doesn’t always lead to the best results, although I think this is more due to trying to focus on something that’s too small in the frame. When a bird only fills part of the center focus point, the camera will often focus on what’s immediately behind the bird, instead of the bird itself. I’ve learned to try and get the bird positioned right at the top center part of the marked focus area in the viewfinder, since that seems to be where the focus point looks, but even with that, I often find I’ll get better results if I go through the trouble of manually adjusting the focus. I haven’t been able to detect any clear focusing error in the lens itself, luckily—it seems to be entirely due to just pushing the lens beyond what it’s designed to handle. Being able to zoom in more would certainly help.

The reason I hesitate with the 70-300VR is that it’s not really the 300mm option that I want. What I really want is the 300mm f/4D ED-IF AF-S, along with a 1.4x teleconverter, which would take me up to 420mm f/5.6. This would be the same as having a 630mm lens on a film SLR, which is more telephoto power than I thought would ever be within reach for me. I practically drool at the possibility. :) The problem is that this combination would cost me close to $2000, and it would not give me VR, which I find very helpful during focusing and framing. Assuming Nikon updates this lens with a VR “G” version at some point, I’d expect the price would go up by at least a couple hundred dollars, plus there are rumors of further upcoming adjustments in pricing thanks to the excessively high value of the Japanese Yen. So it’s unknown whether getting that combination will be a likely possibility over the next few years, thus I am considering the 70-300 VR as a “best I can do for the foreseeable future” option. (I still need to look at 3rd party offerings, too, admittedly.)

35mm f/1.8G DX – This lens is tempting for two reasons. One is that it’s just cheap, compared to Nikon’s other lenses. The other is that it’s a prime lens, roughly in the “normal” range (I actually consider it on the long side of normal, since the “normal” lens on my old camera was a 40mm, and this 35mm comes in at about 53mm equivalent, when adjusting for the D40’s crop factor). Using a lens like this would be an interesting creative challenge. Part of it would involve leaving the other lenses at home, which would force me to work with just the one, single focal length. I wonder what I could come up with? I wonder if I would hate it? It’s been a long time since I was limited to just one focal length.

I also think this would be a handy lens to have for trips to museums and the like. It’s much smaller than the 18-200, which means security people would be less likely to look askance at it. :) (If my 18-55 worked properly, this reason would go away.)

Drawbacks to this lens? Other than the concern that using a prime lens would drive me absolutely nuts, the main issue would be the lack of a distance scale. Probably I would just have to learn to make do with the native autofocus capabilities of the camera, inadequate as they are, and fancier stuff like what I was talking about in this previous entry, simply wouldn’t be possible. On the plus side, since it is a 35mm lens, rather than an 18mm, I’m thinking that would be less of a big deal. The other problem with this lens? Nobody has it in stock!

So, there they are: my current options. Comments appreciated, especially if you happen to have switched from the 18-200 to one of the lenses listed here, or have opinions on third-party telephoto alternatives.

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Using a superzoom lens to get around imprecise autofocusing

I noticed a while back that a lot of the landscape shots I was taking had problems with background or foreground objects being out of focus, in spite of shooting at 18mm with a fairly small aperture (f/11, typically). Worse, the effect wasn’t consistent, which made it doubly hard to figure out what was going on. Sometimes a picture shot at f/8 would be just fine, other times I’d have problems even though I was using a smaller aperture than that. It was getting pretty frustrating.

I think I’ve got it figured out now, though, along with a possible solution.

I’m guessing the problem is that, at 18mm, the hyperfocal zone of the lens is so broad and gradual that it’s impossible for the camera to distinguish the sharpest distance from distances which are substantially in front or behind—from the camera’s viewpoint, all of these distances will appear to be equally “in focus,” so the camera will autofocus on a distance that is technically not optimal. This has been borne out by experimentation: When I autofocus on a moderately close object, and then re-autofocus on a moderately distant object, often the lens will not move very much at all, even though it should have, based on comparing the distances of the objects to the distance scale markings on the lens. In the viewfinder there is no visible difference in focus between the two objects, and apparently the camera isn’t able to tell the difference either.

So, if the camera just happens to autofocus the lens in a way where the “most in-focus” object is too far away, then the foreground will end up blurred in the final picture. Likewise, if that object is too close, then there will likely be some softness in the background. In either case, I’m pointing the focus sensor at an object at roughly the correct distance (I hope), but since the depth of field is so wide, the camera isn’t able to precisely center the focal zone on that object, it merely adjusts the lens until the result is “good enough.” Except that it’s not.

(Part of the problem is admittedly that I am using a fairly slow lens—its widest aperture is f/3.5 at 18mm, which is apparently small enough to cause this problem. I wonder how much better things would be if I had an f/2.8 lens? Or an f/1.8 lens?)

Clearly what needs to happen is to get the lens focus set so that the optimal point of the hyperfocal range is resting on an object that’s a little close, but not too close. (Choosing an object that’s exactly halfway between the foreground and the background wouldn’t be the best choice, because at short focal lengths, the hyperfocal range of a lens tends to be asymmetrical, skewed towards the camera.) Since the autofocus mechanism can’t be relied upon to do that by itself, I am left with manually focusing the lens.

But here’s where the second half of the problem crops up: The Nikon D40 is really not at all good for manually focusing on a wide angle lens. In fact, just using the naked eye at 18mm, I would guess I’m even less capable of picking the right setting than the camera is! So how can this problem be solved?

Well, the solution is a bit tedious, but in my initial tests it seems to be working out fairly well. I’ve been using an 18-200mm zoom lens, and while focusing at 18mm is pretty much hit-and-miss, if I zoom the lens out to 100mm or more, it’s quite easy to see if something is in focus or not.  At those focal lengths, the hyperfocal range is much more narrow and easy to spot in the viewfinder. It’s also easy to see if the camera is focusing where I need it to, which means I can leave autofocus turned on for the first part of this.

So here’s what the procedure boils down to:

  • After making sure my exposure settings are good, I’ll start by composing a rough framing of the scene, then I’ll take note of some close elements in the frame, and some distant elements.
  • I’ll then zoom the lens to a telephoto setting, and focus on one of the close elements I noted. Autofocus works fine for this, so that’s what I use.
  • I’ll then take a look at the distance scale on the lens, to see where it is. Typically it’s somewhere around the 3 meter mark, but it varies of course.
  • Then I’ll repeat this zoom-and-focus procedure with one of the distant elements in the original composition, and again check the focus scale on the lens. Typically it will be closer to the infinity mark, but again there is some variability.
  • Then I’ll switch the lens over to manual focus and zoom back to 18mm, or whatever length I was using in the original composition.
  • I’ll then manually rotate the focus ring on the lens to a position moderately closer than halfway between the distance from the nearer focus point to the farther one—again, not choosing the exact halfway point is due to the fact that the in-focus zone on a wide angle lens will be skewed closer to the camera rather than being perfectly symmetrical.
  • Then I’ll reacquire my original composition in the viewfinder, make sure it’s just the way I like it, and take the shot. Hopefully my original exposure value will still be valid—if it’s not, though, the beauty of a manual focus setting is that it stays where it is, if I need to make any further adjustments (as long as I don’t accidentally bump the focus ring!). It’s also perfectly reasonable to “bracket” the focus a little bit, on multiple shots.

The whole procedure is a bit of a pain in the neck, but far less annoying than getting back to the computer only to discover that my background or foreground is fuzzy.

The one big question in all of this is, which aperture is needed? Since Nikon, in
its infinite wisdom, doesn’t bother putting any sort of depth-of-field markings on lenses anymore, I simply resort to guessing (admittedly, it would be better to utilize an actual depth-of-field chart, so maybe I’ll have to get myself one of those). Depth-of-field is typically pretty wide at 18mm, but it’s not infinite by any means, so I generally won’t bother with apertures wider than f/8. I tend to stick around f/10 or f/11 for the most part, although I honestly don’t have enough practice at this yet to definitely have a feel for it.

The other complication is that the aperture choice becomes more critical at higher focal lengths. Sometimes I’ll zoom the lens all the way up to 35mm or so, for “wide angle” landscapes, and obviously increasing the focal length will decrease the depth of field. But, on the other hand, the original problem becomes less of a problem as depth-of-field decreases, so eventually I can just fall back onto regular autofocus as I zoom in on something.

In the long run, I’m thinking a better solution might be to upgrade my camera body.  I’ve heard the D300s has pretty good autofocus—I wonder if D300s owners have these problems? :)

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Odd weather this summer

I started noticing clouds a couple of summers ago. By “started noticing,” I mean I noticed them in a way I hadn’t noticed before. It’s not that I’d never noticed clouds, obviously, it’s that in summer of 2007 I started to notice them with a photographer’s eye. I’ve also noticed that, for instance, there are types that are much more typical for the winter, and some much more typical for the summer.

This summer, though, has not been typical. In order to illustrate this, take a look at this, which was taken in early July, 2007:

Big Puffy Cloud

Although it was an exceptionally fine specimen, that type of big, crisply-defined cumulus cloud tends to be pretty common in Wisconsin in the summer.

This summer, though, they have been almost totally absent. In fact, the dearth of regular, puffy, well-defined cumulus clouds has gotten to be pretty surprising. Oh, there are cumulus clouds pretty regularly, but instead of clear, well-defined cumulus, we’ve been getting ill-defined and markedly scraggly cumulus, as if the entire species of cloud known as “cumulus” has come down with an illness of some kind.

Some of the best cloud patterns we’ve had all summer were in early July, such as these here (this photo taken almost exactly two years after the previous one):

Some grass on the beach. :P

There were some nice clouds that day, but clearly not cumulus, and on a lot of days, there will be no clouds at all for most of the day.

Instead of clouds, we’ve had haze. Day after day the sky will be clear, and if you’re in a spot where you can see the horizon, you can clearly see a substantial amount of hazy moisture in the air. Somehow, all this moisture has been having a hard time forming into the usual cloud patterns. This means there hasn’t been much rain, either. Autumn colors have started in the past week, in spite of the lack of cold weather, and my theory is that the trees just gave up hoping for a good soak and decided to cash in their chips for the year.

Anyway, I wonder what the deal is. El Niño perhaps?

It’s not been good from a photography standpoint, because for one thing, crappy clouds make crappy pictures. Beyond that, I’ve found that the polarizer I got last spring doesn’t work nearly as well when there’s a lot of haze in the air (I should have known that already, but somehow it wasn’t apparent to me back in the film days).

Maybe now that we’re heading into autumn, things will change. Even they don’t, though, there will still be the fall colors. I have a feeling they are going to be especially nice this year.

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Another Revision

I’ve decided that a new, general purpose blog is really not something I’m interested in getting started right now, especially since I already have blogs back on Blogger which could serve the purpose perfectly well if I ever feel like starting that up again (and hey, one of them still gets 50 to 75 hits per day, even though it must be a year since I’ve posted there).

So anyway. I’m turning this back into a blog about my photography stuff (and possibly other creative endeavors, such as if I ever manage to get back into using Garageband, although at the moment that doesn’t seem very likely). Mostly I’m thinking of just talking about photography stuff, I’m not thinking of linking many of my photographs here. For that, you can go to my Flickr stream. Well, maybe I’ll link a thumbnail or two here. I haven’t decided that yet. What can I say–over time, I think a blog is better if it evolves into a mature form, rather than having everything decided at the beginning. And right now, this blog has never progressed beyond the embryo stage. ;)

At this point I am undecided whether to delete the posts that are now “off topic”, or just make them private or what. The only thing I’m decided on is that I don’t want to deal with it right now. :)

Basically why I’m getting back into this is that I keep writing out these big long posts on Flickr discussions and then deciding I don’t want to actually post them there (for reasons too obscure to explain). But with some if them, it occurs to me that they’d make halfway decent blog entries. I’ve actually done this once already, a post called Raw Workflow Software (and which is now due for a substantial update, as a matter of fact).

So that is that. Onward!

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